10 Best Movies by Female director On Mubi

Staff & contributors

Summer 1993 charts a formative summer in the life of young Frida (Laia Artigas), a brooding six-year-old who, having just been orphaned by AIDS, is sent from her home in Barcelona to live in the countryside with her uncle (David Verdaguer), his wife (Bruna Cusí), and their little girl (Paula Robles). Catalan director Carla Simón drew on her own childhood experiences for the film, making Summer 1993 feel intimately told. It’s shot from the perspective of its young protagonist and is guided by the unpredictable rhythms of memory: we experience Frida’s new life the way she might remember it when she’s older, via snapshots of moments that stand out to a child, like the day she spent amongst the chickens in a neighbor’s farm or the moment another kid asks her why she isn’t more visibly upset about her mother’s recent death.

That emotional enigmaticness is what makes Artigas’s naturalistic performance so absorbing: she never plays Frida in a predictable dramatic register, so much so that it’s easy to forget we’re not watching a documentary. The unexpected little ways her grief manifests itself — along with Simón’s assured, impressionistic directing — make this a profoundly heart-rending watch throughout, and especially so in its gut-punch of a final scene.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Bruna Cusí, David Verdaguer, Fermí Reixach, Isabel Rocatti, Laia Artigas, Quimet Pla

Director: Carla Simón

In Playground, we follow seven-year-old Nora as she navigates friends and school. Through her eyes (and often on her eye level), we witness her and her brother trying and often failing to fit in.

The film is an unfiltered account of their formative years, and possibly a reflection of our own. Commercials and kid-friendly media would have us believe that childhood is simple and pure, but the truth is it isn’t exempt from the major pitfalls of humanity. Children will mimic whatever they see, reasonable or otherwise, and the resulting order won’t always be ideal. Case in point: in the schoolyard, free of adult supervision, Nora and her peers push and tease and harass one another. 

It’s painful but relatable, a microcosm of our own complicated world, and though the film doesn’t shy away from the cruelties of bullying, it’s also filled with moments of empathy and warmth.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Anne-Pascale Clairembourg, Karim Leklou, Laura Verlinden, Sandrine Blancke, Simon Caudry

Director: Laura Wandel

This bittersweet film about a father and a daughter marks one of the more tender spots in Claire Denis’ brilliant filmography. Frequent collaborator Alex Descas plays Lionel (the father), while Mati Diop, now a director in her own right, plays Josephine (the daughter.) The film captures the two at a crossroads, with their closely-knit relationship tested as Josephine grows closer to her boyfriend, and Lionel must face the possibility of finally letting her go.

A melancholy lingers in the air as we learn more about their lives and the small community of neighbors and coworkers in their orbit. Meanwhile, the film's climax holds a mesmerizing sequence set to the Commodores’ Nightshift, which has to rank as one of the best needle drops in cinema from a director who already has an all-timer under her belt. (see. Beau Travail)

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adèle Ado, Alex Descas, Djédjé Apali, Ériq Ebouaney, Grégoire Colin, Ingrid Caven, Jean-Christophe Folly, Mati Diop, Nicole Dogué

Director: Claire Denis

Rating: Unrated

Five orphaned sisters are put under house arrest by their uncle and grandmother after they are seen horsing around with local boys from school. While their actions were purely innocent, their behavior is viewed as scandalous and shameful by the conservative elders in their small Turkish village. After this incident, their grandmother turns her attention towards marrying off her granddaughters. Each of the five sisters rebel in their own way, but it is the youngest and rowdiest sister, Lale, who is the central protagonist of the film. She watches helplessly as each of her older sisters is married off with an increasing sense of dread and desperation. While this may sound hopelessly depressing, the movie is equal parts beautiful and tragic and floats across the screen in a dreamlike manner. Not all of the sisters escape their oppressive surroundings or their assigned fate, but the message is clear: it’s crucial to try.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ayberk Pekcan, Bahar Kerimoğlu, Bahar Kerimoğlu, Burak Yiğit, Burak Yigit, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Elit Iscan, Erol Afsin, Güneş Nezihe Şensoy, Günes Sensoy, Ilayda Akdogan, Nihal Koldaş, Nihal Koldaş, Tugba Sunguroglu

Director: Deniz Gamze Ergüven

Rating: PG-13

, 2022

The film unfolds in the rhythm of a cow’s life: birth, mating, feeding, milking, checkups. Soon, these events become regular occurrences. Instead of showcasing the more ‘spectacular’ parts of these animal lives in order to build a narrative that's engaging in a more conventional sense, British director Andrea Arnold opts for intimacy through banal instances. Even if female cows are symbolic of labour (reared for milk, meat, and reproduction), the actual cows in the documentary are not actors in a traditional sense. Yet, Cow opens up the dialogue about the on-screen role of animals beyond the call for activism. In it, the protagonists dictate the camera movements and positions just as any other human subject would, but since Arnold is an intuitive and sharp filmmaker, she embraces the opportunity to challenge cinema's status quo. A beautiful addition here is the presence of pop music needle drops, through which the film jolts us into being more attentive, helping us to experience everything we consume in everyday life unperturbed (milk, meat, or pop songs) anew.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Lin Gallagher

Director: Andrea Arnold

On one level, Alcarràs is a story about land, about how inextricable it is to livelihood, about how ownership of it has bred conflict since time immemorial. Director Carla Simón emphasizes this even more by hiring actual Catalan farmers as the leads. We’re not just watching the Solés sing and fight for their land, but Alcarràs natives who are also very much at risk of losing what’s theirs in real life. The acting comes off as natural because it is. 

But on another level, Alcarràs is also a story about family, in particular about how family ties run so deep, they’re bound to coil around each other under the ground they’re rooted in. Like a family portrait come to life, Alcarràs shows us the beauty and the peril of loving your family and the legacy they leave behind as much as the Solés do. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Jordi Pujol Dolcet

Director: Carla Simón

Adapted from the Lionel Shriver novel of the same name, We Need to Talk About Kevin is the story of a mother (Tilda Swinton) that never quite bonds with her child, but not by her choice. The son grows up to do a heinous act that begs the question: nature or nurture? This film is an uncompromising view on the development of an unloved child. Silent pain gets voice. Feelings are shown by actions not emotions in an authentic, comprehensible and aesthetic manner. Great work.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Aaron Blakely, Alex Manette, Andy Gershenzon, Annie O'Sullivan, Ashley Gerasimovich, Blake DeLong, Caitlin Kinnunen, Daniel Farcher, Erin Darke, Ezra Miller, Francesca Murdoch, Georgia X. Lifsher, J. Mallory McCree, J.J. Kandel, James Chen, Jasper Newell, Jeffrey Mowery, Jennifer Kim, John C. Reilly, Jose Joaquin Perez, Joseph Basile, Joseph Melendez, Kenneth Franklin, Kimberley Drummond, Lauren Fox, Leland Alexander Wheeler, Leslie Lyles, Louie Rinaldi, Mark Elliot Wilson, Maryann Urbano, Paul Diomede, Polly Adams, Rebecca Dealy, Rock Duer, Rocky Duer, Simon MacLean, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Suzette Gunn, Tilda Swinton, Ursula Parker

Director: Lynne Ramsay

Rating: R

, 2017

With its detailed portraits of seven of Istanbul’s most adored felines, Kedi affirms what anyone who’s spent some time with a cat will know: they really do all have fully-fledged, complex personalities of their own. More than just a celebration of some supremely cute kitties, though, this documentary about the city’s teeming street cat population also presents a moving example of a way of living that embraces — rather than tramples over — our animal neighbors.

Immersive cinematography from the cats’ eye levels is weaved with interviews with the people who care for them, whether voluntarily or because the cats simply demand it. That independence emerges as a much-admired characteristic in the documentary; as one interviewee puts it, “Dogs think people are God, but cats don’t. They’re not ungrateful, they just know better.” It’s impossible not to read a wistful note in the interviewees’ odes — indeed, for many of the people featured here, cats are a point of spiritual and personal reconnection, a reminder of what life is really about underneath all the mind-numbing dross we’ve made up. The magic of Kedi is that it not only perceptively recognizes the healing effect that cats have on humans, but recreates it so that these 70-something minutes feel like therapy.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Bülent Üstün

Director: Ceyda Torun

Rating: NR

While primarily a showcase of endoscopic footage of various surgeries in different hospitals throughout Paris—which should already be enough to either make you queasy or inspire introspection into the fragility of our lives—this singular, experimental documentary places all this bloodshed in the context of the mundanity of the medical profession. Much of the film is taken up by muted conversation from the surgeons and footage of elderly patients wandering around, creating an even more surreal look into the lack of support these hospitals receive. It's far more abstract than it is educational, but its commitment to getting its hands dirty makes it an unforgettable experience.

Genre: Documentary

Director: Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Véréna Paravel

What happens to genius and complex filmmakers once they reach old age? Agnès Varda at 89 is one example. She maintains an interest in the same deep questions but portrays them in a casual way - basically tries to have a little more fun with things. She finds a friend in JR, a young artist with a truck that prints large portraits. Together they go around French villages (the French title is “Visages Villages”), connecting with locals and printing their photos on murals. Their interactions are researched, but not worked. In fact, they are deeply improvised. Because of this and because the movie is structured in an episode format, it will completely disarm you. And when you least expect it you will be met with long-lasting takes on mortality, loss, but also gender, the environment and the evasiveness of life and art.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Agnès Varda, Amaury Bossy, Jean-Paul Beaujon, Jeannine Carpentier, JR, Yves Boulen

Director: Agnès Varda, JR

Rating: PG